Wednesday, September 20, 2006

On This Day In 1973

This is one of those events that make me wish Dr. Scott really had created a time machine out of a Delorean car. (sigh) Oh, to travel back to the Astrodome in '73 and see this event for myself.
On Sept 20th, 1973 Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in a tennis match that came to be known as the quintessential battle of the sexes. I don't know enough about tennis to understand the (what seems to me) rather complicated scoring, but it was a "best three out of five" situation. Billie Jean King slaughtered the guy in the first three sets and it was all over.

The New York Times article from that day is HERE.

I get all proud and teary-eyed just reading about it. I can't imagine how amazing this must have been for women who actually got to watch it on TV or in person. I would have been terrified that she might lose and still excited about what it would mean if she won. Can you imagine what it must have felt like on Sept 21, 1973? Did Billie Jean's accomplishment make other women feel proud that morning and hopeful about our futures? It was such a media circus at the time. Did people understand how important this was, or did it just seem like another publicity stunt?

By 1973 women had been able to make some progress within the feminist movement, but it was all still so new. The Title IX law had just been passed in 1972. Title IX was the law that prohibited sex discrimination in sports for any federally funded programs, mostly public schools. This is the law that allowed girls to get a chance to play basketball, soccer, be on the swim team etc. Other laws had been passed that prohibited sex discrimination in job hiring, sex discrimination while on the job and also against women with pre-school age children. We had accomplished a lot, but there was still so much to do. Hey, we're still working on that whole "equal pay for equal work" thing.

And so was Bille Jean. She started the Women's Tennis Association and the first thing on her list was the gap between what male athletes earned in prize money and what women earned. Here's what Larry Schwartz wrote about it for ESPN.

from Billie Jean
Won For All Women

"In those days, women players received much less money than men earned.
King's voice was heard loudest in the quest for equality. When a new women's
tour was started, with Philip Morris sponsoring a new brand of cigarette, King
was perceived as a "radical" heading a breakaway group. The Virginia Slims Tour
was marketed with the slogan "You've Come a Long Way, Baby."

She convinced her colleagues to form a players' union, and the Women's
Tennis Association was born. King was its first president in 1973. King, who
received $15,000 less than Ilie Nastase did for winning the U.S. Open in 1972,
said if the prize money wasn't equal by the next year, she wouldn't play, and
she didn't think the other women would either. In 1973, the U.S. Open became the
first major tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women."

Even though I was never a big athlete myself, I still get excited about the implications of Title IX and Billie Jean King's winning tennis match. These things happened before I was even born and they made the world a little better for me and my girl friends. It meant that a girl could pursue her talents even if those talents have more to do with hitting a ball than sewing (not that there's anything wrong with sewing!). It meant that a girl could have more choices and experiences in her life than what was traditionally offered. If we could get girls on the basketball team, what else might we accomplish?

So, when Billie Jean King beat the crap out of that loud mouth, blustering, nasty little man, I imagine it felt pretty good. I imagine a lot of women jumped up off their couches and cheered. And for a moment, they got to feel like there was a place for them in this sometimes hostile, usually male-dominated little world. How cool is that?


marz said...

Man, you are just on a roll lately. And in school? And working?

My hat is off to you, supewoman.

Lora_3 said...

I remember watching the Billie Jean, Bobby Riggs match on TV with my Dad. Dad mouthed Billie Jean as much as Bobby Riggs did. Some might think my Dad was being a "Male Pig" but I think he was showing me where the bar was set. He knew his daughter was one of those "I'll show you" kind of gals.

As for title IX, it might be there but it's not equal. I'm from Indiana big basketball state and yes I played. When do high school boys have games and when do high school girls have games? The girls play during the week when they have homework. Nothing like doing homework on a bus or in a locker room. Oh the girls play in the old gyms and the boys play in the new gyms. The movie "Hoosiers" I've played basketball or volleyball in those gyms. The boys wouldn't go in those gyms. They made us play there so we wouldn't hurt the wood floor. I'm not kidding.

The law reads that if you offer a sport for boys you must offer a equal sport for girls. So the schools get all pissy because boy sports make the school more money. So you should support your local girls sporting events. That goes for college too.

Oh I could get into the money but I don't want to go off today. I lived through this and watched my daughter live through the same things. We may have title IX but it's still not equal. I guess title IX allowed us to play boys basketball and not 6 man ball like my mother did. LOL (I wonder how many people even know what that is)

My positive statement; If you want to see equal sports go watch any coed game in a park. Pick volleyball. You'll see some great volleyball and men that truly respect their female team mates.

Sorry for the rant but sports is part of my DNA code. LOL

Be safe...

meesh said...

Hi Marz! Y'know I wasn't planning on doing a post today, but then I saw that "Today in History" thing at the NY Times and I just could not help myself. lol

lora - That's wonderful that you are so into sports and passionate about it. I'm afraid most of my sports experiences in high school were viewed from the marching band section of the stands. Yep, you're talking to a band geek. :)

You are certainly right about boys and girls sports not being treated equally by the school administrations. It's all about the money and we know where they make more of it. I think we have made progress though. There was a time when girls couldn't play any sports at all because they might damage their reproductive systems. Remember Katherine Switzer trying to run the Boston Marathon? What a mess.
There is still a long way to go. At least now little girls can watch the WNBA or the Women's Soccer Team or the William's sister's and have a few athletic role models.
Next on the list: Friday night girl's football...with an all male cheerleading squad!

Melody said...

I saw a great documentary on her several months ago on HBO... I never knew her history or what she had to overcome.. I was awestruck....

Urban Vegan said...

I was in 3rd grade in 1973 and I HAD to have granny glasses just like BJK's!

She is amazing.

Vicki said...

Yo HO HO & Shiver me Timbers -- I remember watching that tennis match!

The Lone Beader said...

Deloreans are cool. I wouldn't mind owning one of those.

Harmonia said...

Your blog is awesome! Mind if I link you? I blog hopped from Vicki's - hope you don't mind. I'm at: - swing by and let me know when you have time.

KleoPatra said...

Working in the sports field and in journalism as i have done for over half my life now, i know this story well and of course many others of similar nature (tho not as publicized, to be sure). Loved reading this post, Meesh!